Last season was the highest-scoring in NFL history, led by the record-setting Denver Broncos. But the Seattle Seahawks proved defense wins championships, and they are the favorites on NFL odds to repeat. Does Seattle still have the league's top D?
1. Seattle Seahawks (6/1 on NFL odds to win Super Bowl XLIX)
How could it be anyone else after that utter domination of Peyton Manning's Broncos in the Super Bowl? It's rare you see Manning that flustered, but with waves and waves of pressure the Seahawks were in his head quickly. Does Seattle have the best pure talent in their starting 11 on defense in the NFL? No. What they do have is the league's best and biggest secondary and several good players they can rotate up front. That keeps everyone fresh. The team was wise to re-sign end Michael Bennett, but a Super Bowl-winning defense is always going to be "vultured" by other teams. Seattle lost two guys up front in Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and two in the secondary in Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. As long as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas remain in the defensive backfield, Seattle will be fine there.
2. Carolina Panthers (28/1)
The Panthers were No. 2 to Seattle in total defense (301.3 yards per game) and scoring (15.1 per game) and second behind Arizona in rushing defense (86.9 ypg). An argument can be made that Carolina has the best front four in the NFL, led by ends Charles Johnson (11 sacks) and Greg Hardy (15 sacks). The latter was kept out of free agency as the team slapped the franchise tag on him. Speaking of slapped, Hardy might be facing a suspension to start 2014 because of a domestic violence incident this offseason. The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a Panther, the tackling machine also known as linebacker Luke Kuechly. If there's one worry here it's that safety Mike Mitchell (66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions) and cornerback Captain Munneryln (74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions) left in free agency. But the front seven is terrific.
3. San Francisco 49ers (15/2)
If you are looking for the best linebacker corps in the NFL, it's in San Francisco with NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. If you saw the NFC Championship Game, Bowman was literally everywhere against Seattle with 14 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, he also blew out his knee and has a long road back following surgery. He's hoping to be ready for Week 1, but the PUP list is possible. And then there's Smith, who has had several off-field incidents and is undoubtedly facing a suspension. So theoretically this unit could drop from No. 3 if those two are each out long stretches. The addition of safety Antoine Bethea (110 tackles, two interceptions) should make up for the loss of Donte Whitner (73 tackles, two interceptions).
4. Cincinnati Bengals (40/1)
The biggest loss for the Cincinnati defense was long-time coordinator Mike Zimmer, who finally got a head coaching job, landing in Minnesota. The Bengals finished third in total defense and fifth in scoring despite some key injuries on that side of the ball. In fact, Pro Football Focus called the "costliest" injury of any team last year to be that of Bengals Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins. He was lost for the year after a Halloween game in Miami. In addition, top cornerback Leon Hall was lost for the year after just six games. The Bengals will miss defensive end Michael Johnson, who had 56 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season and signed with Tampa Bay. He's really the only significant loss, and Cincinnati got tremendous value in the draft with Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard slipping to No. 24 overall. He was the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in college football in 2013.
5. Houston Texans (40/1)
Houston ranked seventh in total yards but tied for 24th in points last year. The former number was more indicative of how good the unit was at times. The points are skewed by all the turnovers by the offense -- Matt Schaub threw picks returned for scores four weeks in a row. Houston has perhaps the most disruptive player in the NFL in end J.J. Watt, the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Now opposing offenses can't focus on him because of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who could be a once-in-a-decade talent. Houston also added a potentially solid run-stopper in Kansas City's Jerrell Powe. Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III was a first-round talent and thus a steal in the third round of the draft. A key will be keeping linebacker Brian Cushing on the field. He's been limited to 12 games total the past two seasons because of injuries. Houston might miss former coordinator Wade Phillips, but Romeo Crennel has been pretty good in his own right as a coordinator, just not as a head coach. He will keep the team in the 3-4 scheme. One last reason to like Houston's defense in 2014: The Texans don't really face any high-powered offenses other than the Eagles and maybe Redskins. Four games against the Jaguars and Titans plus facing the AFC North is a huge plus for the defense.
Just Missed The Cut: Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.